Enel, heading towards a geothermal world

Published on Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Using the Earth’s heat is key to fighting global warming. What may seem like a paradox is instead playing an increasingly important role worldwide. In the last ten years, the world’s installed capacity of geothermal energy has increased from 9,000 MW to about 13,000 MW, and it will continue to grow at an exponential rate: according to the latest projections, it is expected to exceed 20,000 MW by 2020.

Enel plays a key role in this process: we are the only operator able to cover the entire project cycle, from the exploration and the construction phase to plant operation. Thanks to its 34 plants in Tuscany, Italy is one of the world’s leading countries in terms of installed geothermal capacity. In Larderello, Tuscany, geothermal energy was used for industrial purposes for the first time. Since then, Enel’s Tuscan geothermal district has acquired global recognition, with over 150 visits since 2000 on behalf of representatives from countries such as Chile, the US, China, Japan and Indonesia.

Indonesia particularly boasts a vast geothermal energy potential, which is still largely untapped: an estimated 24 GW, accounting for 40% of the world’s geothermal reserves. This enormous energy potential has driven Enel to explore the Asian country’s renewable market. Following a tender launched by the Indonesian Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources, we were recently awarded – in consortium with the local company PT Optima Nusantara Energi – an exploration and development license for the 55 MW Way Ratai project.

However, Indonesia is not Enel’s only “new geothermal frontier”. With the acquisition at the beginning of 2016 of a majority stake in Erdwärme Oberland (EO) – a German company specialised in the development of geothermal projects – Enel seeks to explore the potential of this technology in Germany in Bavaria. EO has in fact been granted a concession by the Bavarian institutions for the construction of a 26 MW plant near Weilheim, about 50 km from Munich.

From Tuscany to the Andes, our geothermal energy is synonymous with innovation. In Italy, we added a small power plant powered by locally-sourced biomass, produced within a radius of 70 km from the plant, in order to supplement the existing Cornia 2 geothermal facility, marking the world’s first geothermal-biomass hybrid plant. In Stillwater, Nevada, in the United States, we built the first facility in the world to combine a photovoltaic plant (26 MW) and a solar thermal power (2 MW) with a geothermal power plant (medium-enthalpy binary cycle).

Further south, in the Andean Plateau in Chile, we built the Cerro Pabellón plant: the first South American facility to use the heat of the Earth to generate energy and the world’s first plant built at 4,500 meters above sea level.